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40 in 40: Hisashi Iwakuma

Ace status? Not quite. Here’s what to expect from Hisashi Iwakuma this year.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

For this edition of 40 in 40, my good friend @JohnTrupin and I decided to have a little chat about Hisashi Iwakuma, a Mariners staple of the last few years and a mainstay in the starting rotation. Enjoy!



So, Hisashi Iwakuma.


The Old Bear himself.


I was at his no-hitter and it remains perhaps my favorite memory at Safeco Field. I then took multiple selfies after the game while wearing my bear hat.

It was also the only good memory from a dismal 2015 season.


Ketel Marte and Brad Miller, center fielders would like to have a word.


Let's just say that I don't think many people "Enjoyed the Journey" in 2015.

(Also, holy cow I forgot Ketel played in CF that year. And Justin Ruggiano! And Stefen Romero! What a shitshow.)

Can we even say shitshow on LL? Whatever.


It could have scarcely been worse, but Kuma's competency has been the real only consistency of the past few years.

I curse in every single piece, but embed it underneath José's gifs.

And now we have five center fielders. What a world.


The easter eggs of Lookout Landing, folks.

Anyway, back to Kuma. You're right that he's been wonderfully competent every season, and it's impressive that he threw 199 innings a year ago given the shoulder worries that scuttled his Dodgers deal.

But I really worry that he's lost that extra gear, and the 28 homers allowed last year signify something in that regard.


He was a wonderful gift from a team who decided Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill were all worthwhile health risks, but that Iwakuma was too shaky.

He certainly was never known for having many initial gears in the first place, but his penchant for leaving the ball up last year was nerve-wracking and often got him burned.


I mean, I'd be cautious too regarding $45 million...but it's a bit ridiculous coming from an organization that gave Hector Olivera $62.5 million.


And will be doling out a cool $21.7 million to Carl Crawford this year.


Good lord.

Either way, it's pretty clear that 2013 Hisashi Iwakuma is gone and not coming back. The question now: Is 2014/2015 Hisashi Iwakuma coming back? He needs to improve his command and the M's need that if they're going to make the playoffs.


I am worried, to say the least.

Iwakuma has been one of my favorite Mariners for years and, as a fellow crafty righty, I admire and adore his precise style. As our Jake Mailhot highlighted in his excellent piece recently, Kuma's work on adding a cutter in with his slider had mixed results. His slider rebounded from a terrible 2015, but many pitches that needed to be buried remained in the zone. A 36 year-old with a shaky injury history seems like a long shot to repeat even 2016’s consistency.


So: best case scenario, he's as consistent as last year and maybe a hair better, finishing just above league average while delivering 200 innings.

Worst case scenario, he either suffers the shoulder injury that the Dodgers predicted and we get effectively nothing out of him, or he's simply no longer the Kuma we know and love, allowing dingers on the daily and walking batters with regularity.

This isn't exactly the prettiest picture...

Are we being too harsh?

Will we ever see this again?


It's not the prettiest picture to paint, but as much as we have enjoyed and appreciated Iwakuma, he's walking a tightrope with his pitching and his health.

That said, there are reasons for optimism. The Old Bear's repertoire has been cultivated around precision and movement. His splitter was as devastating as ever last year, and his cutter should improve with another year of practice and familiarity. The velocity will not be bouncing back, but it was never really there to begin with. If we're talking about concerns between effectiveness and health, count me in the health section more than anything, because when he's out there, I think we can expect more of the same.


Yeah, I hope you’re right. It certainly helps that he’s never been reliant on velocity or stuff, anyway. I think the Dodgers’ concerns are really starting to wear on me, however, and that’s what keeps me from trusting him.

I don’t know. I want to keep loving Kuma. I want him to return to the underrated ace he was in 2013. But I think those days are dead and gone.

P.S. Speaking of Justin Timberlake, happy birthday from both of us to our own Isabelle Minasian! May your day be full of Mariners goodness.